By Erin Crowell
Cross country skiing. Its a wonderland excursion, swooshing through the white woods on a freshly groomed trail breathing with the rhythm of every push and glide, silence enveloping then suddenly pop! pop! pop!
Screams, laughter and a paint-plastered target.
It may not be the intense, competitive sport we saw in Vancouver this past winter, but the new biathlon course at Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa has all the same elements just substitute bullets with paintballs and medals with high fives.
Happening every Sunday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., participants can strap on a pair of cross country skis or snowshoes and test their marksmanship skills by shooting at a group of targets via paintball marker while walking or skiing along an off-road trail.
We dont like to use the word gun, says Janice Davidson, recreation manager at Crystal Mountain, explaining the terminology behind marker.
A set of paintball markers are stationed at each target: five circles on a vertically-propped board, set off at different points along the looped trail. One loop takes approximately one hour to complete, says Davidson, who adds that the course is not intended to be a race.
SKI & SHOOT
Long before the first organized biathlon competition in Norway in 1776 (then called patrol races), people have been combining skiing and shooting -- since around 3000 B.C., when the technique was used for hunting purposes. Rock paintings depicting hunters with bow and arrow on sliding timber have been found near Roedoey, Norway; and writings describing the technique date back to Roman, Greek and Chinese historical writings.
From there, it transformed into a means of warfare with military patrols popping up throughout the Middle Ages. By the end of the 19th Century, several countries including Germany and Switzerland had soldiers on skis.
It wasnt until 1960 when the sport made its first Olympic appearance, which was then a team competition. Instead of the light .22 rifles, athletes shot with a Winchester Model 70s large Army rifle caliber. The targets: cardboard.
The sport gained momentum in 1992 when it was broadcast live on television during the winter Olympics and included a category for women.
A lot has changed in biathlon, but it still remains a fairly ambiguous sport to the general population making it a truly unique winter activity.
FUN FOR ALL
This is for anyone who enjoys paintball and wants to shoot at some targets or just enjoy a family friendly activity, says Davidson. You just need to be eight years or older to shoot the marker.
Because the course is not timed, participants do not have to feel rushed. A two hour reservation block allots ample time to focus on target accuracy and completion of the course.
This summer, Crystal Mountain invested in a paintball course. Davidson says they worked closely with TC Paintball of Traverse City in setting up the course and acquiring the necessary equipment.
We wanted to expand upon that, says Davidson. With the success of this summer, we decided to offer (paintball) as a weekly activity. We have the equipment in hand now, and we have everything to facilitate it.
The biathlon course at Crystal Mountain combines two sports, each from a Michigan season, into an activity that anyone can try. Its one more addition to a variety of off-hill amenities offered at the resort, which include everything from dog sledding and surrey rides to ice skate lessons and family bonfires.
Just come out and do it, says Davidson. Even if we dont have much snow this yearwhich we willyou can always walk the course.
Writer Erin Crowell is a part-time employee in the recreation department at Crystal Mountain. The Crystal Mountain paintball biathlon course is open every Sunday, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., with advanced reservations required. Please allow 24 hours to reserve your spot. Cost is $25 and includes paintball equipment, two-hour snowshoe or cross-country ski rental and trail pass. Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa is located off US-31 at 12500 Crystal Mountain Dr. in Thompsonville. Visit crystalmountain.com for details or call 800-968-7686 ext. 7000.